Why Britain’s most successful model Cara Delevingne is the face of the decade
She’s the model whose style and attitude have come to define fashion in 2014. But why her? And why now?
Ellen E Jones
Ellen is The Independent's TV critic. She writes a daily review of Last Night's TV and a weekly 'Inside TV' column for the i paper, as well as a column on general topics for the main paper most Wednesdays. Ellen is a former Hollywood correspondent and a contributing editor to Little White Lies, she's written on TV, film, lifestyle, travel and politics for publications including the Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire and Total Film.
Friday 21 February 2014
They say that the eyes are the window to the soul. But nobody said anything about the eyebrows. Yet history has proven distinctive eyebrows to be a surprisingly marketable commodity. Frida Kahlo put hers out to work. Groucho Marx made a living from his, while Denis Healey, Alistair Darling and Ataturk followed theirs all the way to high political office. The latest in this long line of happily hirsute notables is the model and party girl Cara Delevingne.
During this London Fashion Week just passed, 21-year-old Delevingne re-established herself as Britain’s most successful model of the moment. She walked for Giles Deacon and Burberry, launched a new Mulberry bag named in her honour, and was papped at a minimum of two parties per night. Add to this her contracts with Burberry, H&M, Chanel, La Perla and DKNY and it becomes impossible to flick through a copy of any magazine or newspaper without seeing her face and, particularly, those eyebrows.
Until recently, Cara Delevingne’s brows –heavy, bushy and in surprising contrast to the rest of her delicately pretty face – were the most cited reason for her success. Then she did something even more tantalising. She began a relationship with a woman. According to tabloid reports, Cara is currently dating Michelle Rodriguez, the 35-year-old Fast & Furious actress, with almost as many drunk-driving convictions as she has film credits.
The two were first photographed together snogging at a basketball game in New York in January, and have since been seen together on numerous occasions, sometimes holding hands. This week they made it official, at least according to a report in the Mirror (Rodriguez’s publicist has since denied her client ever gave an interview), and to some interpretations of an interview Delevingne gave at the Elle Style Awards on Tuesday night. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said the model when asked about Rodriguez by a reporter. “I love her. She’s great.”
Whether or not these two women are lovers, it’s fair to say that Cara has always been a girl’s girl in the broader sense of the phrase. While she has been linked romantically to One Direction singer Harry Styles (haven’t we all?), the relationships for which she is best known are with other high-profile women. She once shared a flat with rock princess and fellow model Georgia May Jagger; pop star Rita Ora is her “wifey”, and her nights out with Rihanna are the stuff of legend. This private social whirl is public knowledge not because of intrusive paps, but because all these relationships are performed on the social media stage. When Cara wished Rihanna a happy birthday two days ago, she did so in the view of her 1.38 million Twitter followers and 4.4 million Instagram followers.
Cara might not be quite so big on Insta, if her go-to photo face were the same pout or distant gaze most models assume when a camera is pointed in their direction. Instead, this prodigious gurner is, as often as not, cross-eyed and poking her tongue out. It’s a face, inevitably, with its own Twitter account, @CarasBogEye. She looks ridiculous, of course, but there’s something endearing about a beautiful woman who doesn’t try to come across as alluring. Cara has always seemed much more interested in making her mates laugh.
Perhaps it’s just hard to take modelling seriously as a career, when it all came so easily. Cara’s elder sister Poppy Delevingne was already working as a model when Cara signed up to the same agency, Storm. Sarah Doukas, the founder of the agency and the woman who signed Kate Moss, had a daughter attending the same boarding school as the younger Delevingne girls and spotted the potential in both of them. In fact, the professionally prescient Doukas was a bit late on this one. Cara had already done her first shoot, aged 10, modelling Philip Treacy hats for the photographer Bruce Weber in Vogue Italia. She has since appeared several times on the cover of British Vogue and various international editions. Her godfather is Nicholas Coleridge, president of Vogue’s publishing house Condé Nast International.
No, modelling holds no challenge for Cara Delevingne. She’s often said she’d rather do something more creative – and less irritating to her psoriasis. “I want to make music. I want to act. I want to sing. I want to do something that doesn’t make my skin erupt,” she told W magazine in a 2013 interview. A talented drummer and a half-decent singer, Delevingne recorded some music under the aegis of Spice Girls manager Simon Fuller, before sacking it off to focus on the modelling. (Fuller’s management company 19 Entertainment owns a controlling stake in Storm.) Rumours of a collaboration with Rita Ora and Pharrell Williams have swirled persistently since last year, but as yet no tracks of her music have materialised.
Then there’s the acting. She is following up a small role as Princess Sorokina in Joe Wright’s 2012 version of Anna Karenina with a role in the fairly obnoxious-sounding British indie Kids in Love. According to reports from the set, it’s a Notting Hill-set tale of rich kids who love to party. Handily, the director Preston Thompson’s father also owns the key shoot location, Ealing Studios. Her biggest role to date will be in Michael Winterbottom’s controversial new film, The Face of an Angel, based on the story of Amanda Knox. It’s a more intriguing film, but Delevingne’s character, Melanie, is still someone she can easily relate to. As she told the Daily Mail: “The idea I had of her is that she’s like me and a lot of my friends who are 21 and travelling around Europe.”
Delevingne wouldn’t be the first British model to attempt to add a string to her bow, but perhaps she will be the first to use it to pick out a tune. Lily Cole, the British model du jour a few jours back, has yet to make good on the acting promise exhibited in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009), and the aborted pop careers of Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell have both been mercifully forgotten. Remember Campbell’s 1994 single “Love and Tears”? Or her album Babywoman? No? Probably just as well.
Until such time as Cara eclipses these efforts, she’ll have to make do with being internationally adored not for any specific creative achievements, so much as for being posh, pretty and young. It’s a winning combination, which pops up in every generation, conferring party invites on the possessor and revealing the zeitgeist to the rest of us. Evidently, the age which made Cara a famous “It” girl is one that loves #selfies, supportive female friendships and has a blasé attitude to categorising sexuality. It’s also one where family connections matter as much as they ever did.
That’s no diss to Cara herself. Like good cheekbones and sexual orientation, family is just something you’re born with. As for British media attempting to pass off its scraping fealty to the new aristocratic classes as an appreciation of something called “Style”? Well, one has to raise a bushy eyebrow at that.
Life In Brief
Born: Cara Jocelyn Delevingne, London, England, 12 August 1992.
Family: Her father is property developer Charles Hamar Delevingne; her mother, Pandora, is a personal shopper. Her maternal grandmother was lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret.
Education: Frances Holland School for Girls, London, and Bedales School, Hampshire.
Career: Discovered by Storm modelling agency while at school, she became the face of Burberry and Chanel and was named Model of the Year at the British Fashion Awards 2012. She first appeared on the cover of British Vogue in February 2013.
She says: “People ask me, ‘What’s your secret?’ And I’m like, ‘You just don’t pluck them.’ It’s really simple.”
They say: “I think Cara is much bigger than everyone’s expectations. There are whispers about music and movies, but what people should focus on is her spirit.” Pharrell Williams
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